An artist’s rendering of what a sports and entertainment multiplex might look like at the Howard Johnson Harbourside Hotel site at the corner of Terminal Avenue and Comox Road.

An artist’s rendering of what a sports and entertainment multiplex might look like at the Howard Johnson Harbourside Hotel site at the corner of Terminal Avenue and Comox Road.

Nanaimo residents respond to multiplex idea

NANAIMO – The city held the first of three open houses on a sports and entertainment centre last Thursday. More than 100 people attended.

Nanaimo resident John Fisher, at a city open house on a sports and entertainment centre last week, encourages people to have an open mind.

“This is a kickoff, it’s a starting block and I just would encourage all the citizens to have an open mind and try to see the benefit, not just for them and their situation but the future of the city,” he said. “I think we are all shareholders in that.”

More than 100 people turned out to weigh in on a sports and entertainment centre in the first of three open houses hosted by the City of Nanaimo. Other events will be held Thursday (Dec. 1) and on Dec. 8.

People could see the work of Brisbin Brook Beynon Architects, hired by the city to do a more than $240,000 study into a sports and entertainment centre. The company has pitched a long house-inspired concept with a grass roof and covered plaza, that would sit at 1 Port Dr. on the south industrial waterfront or the Howard Johnson Harbourside Hotel site, whose ownership group previously proposed plans for a hotel and sports arena. The centre would cost $62-83 million, depending on the its features and size.

Resident Cal Davis mentioned the proposal by private interests, which he said is “fine.” If the city is going to contribute substantial money, it’s already paying for the conference centre and he said he doesn’t know how it can afford it. He’s also concerned about council itself, which he said isn’t working as a group.

“It’s going to cost between $63 million and $83 million and this council, the way they act, I wouldn’t trust them with 63 cents, quite frankly,” he said.

Fred Pattje, former city councillor and a member of the south downtown waterfront committee, is not opposed to an event centre, but doesn’t want public involvement, or public money, adding that if it’s that good of a thing people should be jumping at the chance to build it and make some money.

He points out the main impetus for the city buying the land at the time was it felt something needed to be done with the transit exchange to move it from Labieux Road.

The waterfront committee also went through a process to create a vision for the waterfront. Pattje said the committee held an open house at one point where there were 500 people, and in one day, 450 comments. He said of all those comments, only three or four people mentioned a multiplex. He also said to his knowledge, no candidate in the last election had the centre in their platform and asks how it ended up as a first priority of the City of Nanaimo.

BBB Architects also says in its presentation a centre on 1 Port Dr. supports “almost all” of the south downtown waterfront initiative’s guiding principles. Pattje would like to know what makes them think that’s the case because he doesn’t think it is.

Kaleena Young, a member of the Harbour City Rollers, is excited about the possibility of a sports and entertainment centre and said she’s thinking more about the costs and benefits to the city. She’d also like to know more about how accessible some of the space would be for residents because she plays roller derby and while the team has existed for seven years, she said it still doesn’t have an appropriate space.

“I just know there’s a lot to consider but it doesn’t scare me,” she said. “There seems to be a lot of people here who are fearful of it and I think that this is something our city has needed for a long time.”

Donna Baldwin called the proposed centre an “exceptionally wonderful thing” and long overdue, adding it would enhance downtown and beautify the waterfront area. She doesn’t support the Howard Johnson site, which she said isn’t big enough.

As for who pays for the facility?

“The longer we wait … the more we’ll pay and those people I think who say not more taxes are very shortsighted and what they should ask themselves is are we residents of Nanaimo or are we just taxpayers?” she asked. “I think if you’re a resident you want to enhance the city in any way you can. If you’re just a taxpayer, then you don’t care what’s going on in your city, all you care about is how little you spend.”

Coun. Bill Bestwick, who attended the event, said he wasn’t surprised by any of the comments he received, and that being at the event to converse one-on-one is important, to listen to people, hear what they have to say, and what their likes and dislikes are.

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